The Black Rider seems cut from the same cloth as the character addressed in "False Prophet
," particularly with the line "don't hug me, don't flatter me, don't turn on the charm." In both instances, the antagonist in the song is a deceitful charmer that Dylan's calling out for being something other than he appears.
Seeing as how the False Prophet alludes to the Biblical book of Revelation, it's safe to guess that the Black Rider is none other than the Third Horseman of the Apocalypse, who also appears in Revelation. When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, "Come." I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, "A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; but do not damage the oil and the wine."
Dylan's music is often filled with Biblical imagery and allusion, but Rough and Rowdy Ways
takes that to a level only before seen in the albums from Dylan's "Christian Trilogy" (Slow Train Coming
, and Shot of Love
) released from 1979 to 1981.
So, it's hardly a stretch to see the Black Rider coming from the Bible. This idea is also bolstered in the line, "You fell into the fire and you're eating the flame," referring to the character falling into hell.
The Third Horseman is called Famine, but its nature is more nuanced than just starvation. Famine carries a scale and seeks to create deprivation and destruction through the manipulation of market prices. It is, in effect, an economic horror more than anything, pricing people out of food. This idea can easily be applied to 2020 (when Rough and Rowdy Ways
was released) because the increasing cost of food around the world has been a growing problem. That doesn't really solve who Dylan is fingering as the Black Rider, though. Many theories are sure to abound.